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The (Mets) Empire Strikes Back

After more than two weeks of keeping quiet on the whole Madoff mess, the Mets ownership group finally lashed back at Madoff trustee Irving Picard in the person of chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, who held court with reporters yesterday.

Next up today is principal owner Fred Wilpon, who also plans to speak out on the Mets' first official workout for pitchers and catchers. It's an interesting strategy -- taking the focus off the field when it would be easy to change the conversation to baseball. But the Wilpons have been taking a beating in the public forum lately, so maybe they view this as the right time to mount a more vocal attack.

On the baseball front, Francisco Rodriguez showed up yesterday and said all the right things in talking about his comeback from assault charges last September. K-Rod used language that sounded like it was straight from the Anger Management handbook, and also asked Mets' fans for a second chance.

Manager Terry Collins also gave his opening address to reporters, a Q and A that lasted about 25 minutes. He touched on a number of topics, from the second-base competition to the centerfield situation to how he plans to use K-Rod. Also, he's been crafting his first-workout speech, scheduled for Feb. 21, since he got the manager's job in November. We'll see how that's received next week.

Last but not least, Jose Reyes sounds content to wait until the end of the season for contract talks with the Mets -- and also seems very interested in free agency, which could bring him a huge payday. Just as interesting, Jeff Wilpon suggested that the Mets already are planning two 2012 payroll budgets - one with Reyes, and one without.

“You’ve got to ask Sandy [Alderson] that," Wilpon said about the ability to afford Reyes. "Sandy has the ability to run the team, he did it this offseason. We’re looking at budgets, we’re looking at numbers for out years. There’s some with Jose in it, there’s some with Jose not in it, and that’s just prudent planning."

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